Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Half-Marathon Training: Do Your Long Runs Fast

The start of the 2012 Santa Cruz Half-Marathon,
complete with time stamp
Over the past couple years, I've been training for a number of half-marathons and stumbled upon a workout that's really paid dividends on race day.  It all started when I started running on the Sawyer Camp Trail on the San Francisco Peninsula.  The six mile trail is marked every half mile so I started getting in the habit of wearing a watch and timing my pace for out and back runs of up to 12 miles.  Of course, my inner competitor emerged on these runs and each mile I did went faster and faster.  Next week, I'd come back and run it hard all over again.  Surprisingly, instead of tearing myself down with these fast paced long runs, I started making major gains in my training I've seldom experienced in over thirty years of running.  From then on, I make sure to do my long runs fast whenever I train for a half-marathon.
Now running long runs fast goes against most conventional wisdom, as most people will tell you to slow down during long runs to avoid injury and over training.  I disagree with this conventional wisdom.  Here's why:
  1. Running form tends to get a little sloppy when you run slow, and I can't think of a better way to injure yourself than spending a lot of time running with sloppy form.  At higher speeds, running form gets more efficient and so you can actually run at higher intensity at little or no more risk for injury than if you ran slower.
  2. One of the most important and underrated running skills is "pace sense", understanding what running pace you can maintain over a certain distance.  Fast long runs are great at developing pace sense near the pace you'll run in the half-marathon, and that's not something you'll gain on long slow distance runs a couple minutes per mile slower than race pace.  How often have you gone out "feeling easy" in a half-marathon only to come through the first mile split was 30-45 seconds under goal pace?   You can avoid getting caught up in the early race frenzy and excitement if you've put in plenty of miles around your half-marathon goal pace.
  3. Fast paced long runs, when done right, are similar to running intensity and duration you'll experience on race day.  In addition, running several miles in succession at consistent pace requires a mental discipline you'll develop on long fast runs.  The race will seem more like "just another weekend run" when you have plenty of fast long runs under your belt.  You don't get this type of training effect with long slow distance.
How far should these runs be?  I consider a "long run" to be any run that's between 25-33% of your weekly mileage.

So how fast should you do them?  I go no faster than what I call "hard to hold a conversation pace".  When you're at your fast long run pace, you could say a sentence or two between gasps for breaths, but it you kept talking for maybe 30 seconds, you'd have to stop and catch your breath. 
Sometimes you'll hear these runs called "tempo runs" but since tempo runs are a bit vaguely defined  concept and often refer to runs of 2-6 miles, I prefer to call them "fast long runs".

I suggest you first ease into these runs, slowly ramping up the intensity to find a pace that works for you.  Wearing a GPS watch or running on trail with mile markers really helps on these runs.   It may take a few weeks to determine what pace you can handle and that's OK.   Part of the training effect is learning what an ideal pace is for these runs and just what you can handle.
Make no mistake, these runs will take a lot out of you so you have to be careful to make sure your recovered after each one.  Two years ago I made the mistake of doing two fast long runs within six days and ended up with hip bursitis which knocked me out of running for a couple weeks, and I never made it to the starting line for the half-marathon I was training for.  So I've developed my own rules of thumb to prevent these runs from tearing myself down, which will work well for most runners.
  1. The long run should never be longer than 33% of your weekly mileage, and 25-30% is best.
  2. Two days before the fast long run, don't do any workout that is above a medium daily effort.  The day before should be a medium to easy effort, and sometimes I completely take the day off before a fast long run.
  3. May sure the day after a fast long run is an easy run, and two days afterwards, your run not exceed a medium effort.  
  4. Make sure you can hold the pace for the entire duration of the run.  If you have to slow down the last few miles to finish, you're going too fast.  You should feel as if you could do one more mile and still maintain your pace at the end of your run.
  5. Don't do these more than once a week.   Every other week is probably best to keep yourself fresh.
Your limits may vary.  It's important to make sure you're well recovered from these efforts before taking on any other hard running efforts like speedwork, trail running, shorter tempo runs or another long run (fast or slow).    I've been surprised how much progress I can make simply by running a fast long run once every week or two with no other hard workouts in my training.
No doubt about it, running long runs fast is hard work but like all well directed hard work, will pay off on race day.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Prizes Await at the 4th Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run

Good news!  I'm proud to announce for the upcoming 4th Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run being held this February 10th as part of SF Beer Week,  both Runner's Factory of Los Gatos and Running Revolution of Campbell have provided a $25 gift certificate for the post-run raffle. In addition, the Runner's Factory will give all runners who mention the beer run a 20% discount on any purchases. In addition, both Strike Brewing and Adventure Sports Journal are providing T-shirts.  Many thanks to our raffle sponsors!

Raffle tickets are a dollar each, six for $5, and proceeds from the raffle benefit Autism Speaks and 2nd Harvest Food Bank

The run begins 11am at C.B. Hannegan's located on 208 Bachman Ave in downtown Los Gatos.  More details on the Beer Run will be found at the event website here or just check out the event flyer below.

See you there!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Home Brew Diaries: Closet Hop Head Belgian IPA

I never quite saw the point of taking notes as I home brewed, as I barely knew what I was doing.  And taking notes is something I do a lot during work.   Taking notes is a great way to improve brewing skills but since home brewing is hobby, I was a bit loathe to make it seem more like work and less like a hobby with obsessive note taking. 

Do you have any idea hard it is to take a
picture of a beer beer inside a closet.
But one of the best ways to learn something is to organize one's thoughts so you can tell other people about it, so I've decided to commit my home brewing exploits to electronic papers here in periodic installments I've brilliantly named "Home Brew Diaries".  Which is a signal to you, dear reader, to skip these posts if your not into reading about my home brewing exploits as I readily admit, these posts are more about me than they are about you.  Then again, some of you out there home brew, and part of my satisfaction from home brewing is the insight gained from understanding how hops, yeast, malt, and water come together to create what we all know as "beer".

And so we start with my first attempt at a Belgian IPA, Closet Hop Head.  I've brewed beers inspired by son Brandon and daughter Verona, so it seemed time to brew a beer in honor of my wife Linda.  One of the most memorable times in her life was whiling away the afternoons long ago on a trip to Belgium with one of that countries many wonderful beers.  Back here in the States, her favorite beers are the most hoppy ones.  So a Belgian IPA seemed a pretty obvious as a tribute beer for her, and since I sometimes joke "Don't let her good looks fool you, she's a closet hop head!", that's where the name comes from.

For this beer, I chose Chinook hops in an attempt to give it that nice grape fruity peel character Linda always likes and Cascade to give it additional citrus-like notes.  Linda always loves a beer with great hop aromas, so used a little additional Cascade for dry hopping.  To let all the hop goodness shine through, I used clear Pilsner malt.  The two gallon recipe:

Closet Hophead

Makes approximately two gallons.

10 ounces 40L Crystal Malt
4 lbs. Pilsner Malt
0.5 ounces Chinook Hops 60 minutes
0.5 ounces Cascade Hops 30 minutes
0.2 ounces Cascade Hops 5 minutes
0.2 ounces Cascade Hops, dry hopping
3 twists of ground pepper from a pepper grinder (An impulsive decision near the end of the boil!)

White Labs Belgian Ale Yeast

OG 1.064
FG  1.018
ABV 6.25%

The Final Results
As with a lot of my home brews, this didn't turn out the way I expected.  I'd characterize the final results as more of a Belgian Pale Ale, as it just didn't quite have the hop bite one expects from a good IPA.  The ground pepper was a weird last minute thought while brewing, and like a lot of impulsive last minute thoughts, it doesn't seem like a good idea in hindsight.  Maybe next time I'll use a different spice like coriander to make the brew more "Belgian".  The White Labs website indicates with their Belgian Ale Yeast strain "phenolic and spicy flavors dominate the profile".  That was certainly true here, with those flavors at the forefront and the hop flavors unfortunately muddled and too far back in the background. Not cooling the wort down enough before pitching the yeast may have caused that.   I could certainly use more hops to ramp up those flavors, but having recently read hops available at most home brewing stores tend to be low quality, that might be the real problem.

The brew is a bit cloudy and has a nice meringue-like head to it.

While the end result was a bit of a letdown, Closet Hop Head started growing on me the more I drank it, which is always a positive thing.  I'll just tweak the recipe, possibly find a better source of hops, and give it another go sometime.

Linda drinking something hoppy.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Ales for Autism Black and White Beer Ball February 15th

There's lots of events going on during the upcoming SF Beer Week but one I definitely want to alert you all to is the Black and White Beer Beer this coming February 15th hosted by Ales for Autism up in Santa Rosa.  It's a night a music, food, and of course beer from a great list of Northern California breweries.

The proceeds benefit Anova Education, a provider of educational, behavioral, and therapy services for children and adults with disabilities.   They have a pretty impressive line-up of breweries, and of course, last year they scored some Pliny the Younger, so who knows what surprises they'll have in store for this year?  As a father of an autistic child, I wish the event much success.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Beer of the Month: Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale from Boulevard Brewing

Finding Tank 7 in the Bay Area last month was
like an early Christmas present
I don't remember what possessed me to walk into that Whole Foods that overcast December day.  It was one of those aimless days, where I just had to get out of the house and go somewhere.  And sometimes that means ending up someplace where good beer is to be found, as the act of looking at a rows of beer bottles, carefully reading the labels that look interesting, and ultimately buying a few of the bottles has a certain therapeutic effect.  I walk over to the beer cooler, looked down, and nearly exclaimed to the entire busy  Saturday afternoon crowd "Why that's Tank (bleeping) 7!  It's made it to California!" 

That's right,one of my all time favorite beers from one my all time favorite breweries is Beer of the Month, the one and only Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale from Boulevard Brewing, in Kansas City, MO.  It's a beer I've long remembered but rarely get to taste until now, as Boulevard's distribution only recently reached the West Coast.  

I'm afraid I have to give credit to discovering Tank 7 to my stupid younger sister.   She turned me onto this beer on a trip to the Boulevard's Brewery a few years ago when I was visiting her in Kansas City.  I've never had a Boulevard beer that was worse than "pretty good" if you don't count their weird and wacky Lunar Ale.  They've won a bunch of Great American Beer Festival medals, and display a tremendous range as brewery, skillfully brewing lawn mower beers like their popular Unfiltered Wheat, while pushing plenty of brewing boundaries with their limited release Smokestack Series, which includes Tank 7.
As for why I love Tank 7, it is that rare beer than excels for as much as what you don't taste, as what you do.  I love the restraint, the softness, the subdued complexity, yet the yeasty, lemon and spicey flavors still seem to pop.  Lots of good Saisons seem heavy and harsh in comparison.  And maybe because I'm one of the many transplanted Midwesterners in Northern California, I like to see a Midwestern brewery do good.
I urge my local Northern California friends not to drink local and try this great Saisson from one of the great Midwestern breweries way too under appreciated here on the West Coast.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Target, Santa Cruz Half-Marathon: The Fun Begins

If I wanted to make this blog really tedious and dull, I'd write about my running all the time.  Sure, I enjoy running, its often stimulating with even exhilarating and unique moments from tim, but then some runs are about as exciting as washing the dishes.  Running success requires a certain humdrum day to day consistency which when written out, is about as exciting to read as a bus schedule.  Of course, there are days when you have a workout breakthrough, but of course, to build up a solid foundation, you have to come back every 2-3 days and run another strong workout.  So I'm not big on broadcasting about my training accomplishments on the Internet or through social media for that reason. 
But then, runners like to talk about running, and "How's your running going?" is always a great ice-breaker question when meeting runners.  And this weekend, I signed up for the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon, and figured it couldn't hurt to share some experiences and discuss how training leading up to the race is going from time to time.  After running for over 30 years, I have my own thoughts about how to train for half-marathons, and figure some of you might actually be interested in reading about this every few weeks.   When the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon starts April 7th, we'll all find out how all that hard work paid off, a running laboratory if you will.  For those more interested, feel free to find me on Daily Mile where we chat about our respective running and other workouts on a more regular basis.
As for my current plans for the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon, I figure to have a finishing time in the range of 1:25-1:30.  I'm building up my long runs to at least fourteen miles by the end of the month, with weekly mileage in the 40-45 mile range.  Then I'll start getting speedier with some 3-4 mile tempo runs starting February, and a smattering of shorter interval track workouts in March.  I'll be writing about those workouts with observations and hopefully some insight that might help you with your running.  I'll also be running The 408k, an 8k in San Jose on March 10th as a tune-up for the half-marathon.
Right now, the focus is on the long runs and getting a decent amount of base mileage.  And I'm a believe in doing your long runs fast.  It's a counter-intuitive approach and goes against a lot of so-called conventional wisdom out there.  But running long runs fast has worked for me, and I'll talk about that specifically in two or three weeks with a few more long fast runs under my belt.
For those who decide to stick around, we'll see where this all leads.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Session #71: Five Things I Learned About Beer From Homebrewing

For this month's Session, John at Home Brew Manual asks us to write about how our experience brewing beer has affected our enjoyment of drinking beer.  I've been homebrewing beer for over three years, making somewhere between 10-15 batches over that time.  Some of the beers were good, some OK, others were beyond horrible.    By my reckoning, this puts me into the "knows enough to be dangerous" category and so I can't realistically claim to have any deep insights into the matter.  But then, what good is having a blog if I can't spout off a bunch of uninformed opinions?  So without further ado, here are five things I learned about beer from actually brewing it.

1.  Any Idiot Can Brew Beer

If a video existed of the first time I ever brewed beer, watching it today would be a lot like watching a video of my first date.  Not only did I not have a clue about what I was doing, everything I was doing was based on books and things I'd seen, but never actually did.   I'd thoroughly sterilize things that really just needed to be cleaned, and barely cleaned things that needed to be thoroughly sterilized.  (Just to be clear, I'm talking about my first homebrew, not my first date.)  I have no idea how any sugars were extracted from the luke-warm, soggy over-sized teabags stuffed with grain that served as the "mash".

After spending nearly a day peeking at the carboy every five minutes, the yeasts quietly worked their magic and the airlock began to slowly pop up and down.  The result was a thin, grainy, severely under-hopped and over carbonated Brown Ale, and all those who tried it gave me a rousing chorus of "It's not that bad." 

Technically it was beer and most people, if not told what they were drinking beforehand, would likely identify my first homebrew as "beer" within a few sips.  Beer became a little less mysterious, and I discovered the most satisfying beer in the world is any beer I just made.

2. Any Idiot Can Brew a Good Beer Once in a While

I'm living proof.  After a few batches of homebrew, I began to develop a process.  Or at least I stopped running around my kitchen yelling "Oh Shit" so much.  Until one day I tried my hand at a Molassas Stout and was in perpetual fire drill mode the whole time.  The grains were mashed at either too high or too low a temperature as I fiddled with the stove burners all afternoon.  The wort was way too hot when I pitched the yeast.  When I was done, it looked like someone with Stout colored-blood had been hacked to death in my kitchen.

To my utter amazement, when I tasted the final product, my immediate thought was "Damn, did I just brew this!".   Some how, all those brewing flaws either counteracted each other, or the off-tastes somehow complimented either other really well, and everyone agreed the final product was truly awesome.   And I'll never be able to duplicate it again.

So whenever someone raves about one great beer from a new brewery that's supposedly the next big thing, I always think, "Let's see them do that again."  Some breweries do, others don't.

3. The Act of Brewing Beer is About as Sexy as Cleaning Your Toilet

When I started homebrewing, an experienced homebrewer advised, "Just realize you'll be spending a lot of time cleaning things."  Unfortunately, he was right.   I spend more time cleaning metal and glass objects require to brew, ferment, and store beer than time actually brew beer.  Over one period, a couple batches homebrew tasted like someone slipped vinegar into it before I figured the source of the contamination.  So whenever a professional brewer says, "Brewing is a lot about sanitation," rather than some way cool awesome recipe, I get it.

4.  Small is Beautiful

Many professional brewers profess a preference to keep their operations small, whether it be to maintain quality or simply to hide the fact their ambitious expansion plans went bust. 

Whatever their reasons, I've found the traditional 5-gallon homebrew batches are too much.  Too much time to brew, too much heavy equipment, and way too much beer.  As much as I love my watery, odd-tasting Pale Ales, after drinking three gallons of the stuff, I'm done with them.  My friends can only accept so much "gift homebrew" before our relationship is seriously strained.

I experimented with smaller 1-gallon all-grain home brew batches with good results, before ramping this up to two gallons, which I brew comfortably in my kitchen with standard cooking equipment.  I'm not too proud to say my biggest source of homebrewing equipment is Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

5. Anyone Who Wants to Brew Beer for a Living Has to Be Crazy

There is nothing more satisfying than drinking my own beer and slowly demystifying the alchemy of yeast, malt and hops with the creation each new batch of beer brewed in my own home.

Thankfully, I don't have to care if each batch tastes a little different.  I don't have to take out any loans to buy equipment, and if a batch of beer goes bad, I can simply pour it down the drain.  I don't have to go around cold calling on bars, grocery stores, and restaurants or worry if my beer isn't selling for whatever reason.  I don't have to hire or fire anyone, or stress out over meeting payroll.   I never have to smile while politely dealing with drunks at Beer Festivals.  Why anyone would want ruin a good thing by doing that other stuff is something that makes absolutely no sense.

Then again, my idea of a great Sunday morning is running ten miles, even in the cold rain, and I suppose some might find that a little weird.